The accordion player in the video above is Steve Irwin, the establishment candidate for the open Pittsburgh congressional seat. Irwin has been tasked by the forces of reaction to derail state Rep Summer Lee's seemingly unstoppable sprint to a seat in Congress. I'll get into the race in a moment. First I want to explain why I'm starting with Irwin's insipid commercial. It isn't because he's a competent accordionist or because he has a compelling-- let alone believable-- message. See that guy with his glasses on his forehead in a couple of frames in the 30 second spot? It's Irwin's first ad and he began running it over a week ago. It's the "positive" part of the campaign. The negativity will be handled by Mark Mellman's sewer money that has been flooding into the race, the same way it flooded into Chicago to stop Marie Newman and into Cleveland to stop Nina Turner.
But Irwin's positive messaging is a little weird since that guy with the glasses on his forehead Irwin is talking to is none other than Paul Zagowski, who is a convicted rapist and sex offender. While in prison in the 80s, he also had some years added on to his sentence for writing threatening letters to Ronald Reagan. When horrified TV viewers told the campaign that Irwin had been beaming Zagowski's image into their living rooms for nearly 2 weeks, they cropped him out of the ad without any kind of acknowledgement, apology or explanation.
This comes on the heels of more bad judgement on Irwin's part. Last month he turned in his nominating petitions and they were filled with forgeries, including one of a federal judge, Cathy Bissoon, forged by an Irwin staffer, Kirk Rice, who had previously been arrested for "using bogus prescriptions to get drugs."
For many Democrats in Pittsburgh, this kind of "bad judgment," by Irwin, a former lobbyist, is just the tip of the iceberg. That's he's an anti-union attorney is a much more serious consideration. Last month, our old friend Mike Elk, one of the country's most respected and admired labor journalists, wrote that Irwin "served as a partner at the anti-union 'union-avoidance' law firm Leech Tishman. For at least a decade, Irwin oversaw the Labor & Employment division at Leech Tishman, a law firm that states they provide 'union avoidance' services, a common euphemism for what union organizers label 'union-busting.' ... In 2015, Irwin successfully worked with Leech Tishman to defeat a Pittsburgh City Council bill that would have guaranteed paid sick leave to low-wage workers. For a July 2015 debate about whether to pass paid sick leave, Irwin solicited small business owners to express their concern about the law's impact, according to a 2015 article on Leech Tishman's website. After a four-year court battle that went all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the law, which passed Pittsburgh City Council in 2015, was finally enacted in 2020.
Black [democratic] socialist State Representative Summer Lee and Pitt law Professor Jerry Dickinson, who is also Black.
While no polling has been done in the race, Irwin is leading in fundraising. In the last quarter, Irwin raised $337,980.84 while Summer Lee raised $272,512.02; Jerry Dickinson raised $120,108.97
In addition, Irwin, the former Jewish head of Pittsburgh’s Anti-Defamation League, has received the endorsement from the corporate-backed Democratic Majority for Israel PAC. The Super PAC spent over $2 million defeating progressive icon Nina Turner in a nearby Cleveland congressional special election primary in 2021.
Unlike Irwin, Lee’s campaign has relied greatly on their grassroots strength and announced that they had gathered 7,135 signatures to get on the ballot. Irwin’s campaign gathered approximately 2,000 signatures; Dickinson did not disclose the number of petition signatures they gathered.
On Thursday, Lee’s campaign and Irwin’s campaign traded high-profile endorsements. Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Summer Lee, while Irwin received the endorsement of retiring Congressman Mike Doyle and Allegheny County Executive Richard Fitzgerald.
...SEIU, United Electrical (UE), and the UFCW have endorsed Summer Lee, a former organizer with the Fight for $15 in Pittsburgh. The unions are the only ones that have endorsed in the congressional race so far.
Since then, the AFL-CIO, which had been set to endorse Irwin, studied Elk's reporting and was shamed into changing its position. To date only a conservative pro-fracking building trades union has jumped on his bandwagon. This week, writing for The Nation, Aída Chávez noted that Irwin has spent much of his career defending corporations and their interests in court, working against the interests of western Pennsylvania families and workers. "Irwin," she wrote, "is currently running for the House seat being vacated by longtime Representative Mike Doyle in Pennsylvania’s newly drawn 12th Congressional District, where he faces a crowded primary field. Summer Lee, a democratic socialist who won a state House seat in 2018, is the other top contender in the race, and represents one of the progressive wing of the party’s best pickup opportunities heading into the 2022 midterm elections. She’s running on a platform that includes Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and support for the PRO Act, Democrats’ sweeping labor reform legislation, which would bolster organized labor nationwide. The district, which includes Pittsburgh and some southern and eastern suburbs, is solidly blue."
Lee's campaign has been endorsed by Bernie, the Sunrise Movement, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, and although the Congressional Progressive Caucus' New Dem-infested PAC is now completely discredited, it has also endorsed her, although so have reliable members of the Caucus like Pramila and Ayanna.